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Cultivating More Female Plant Scientists

December 2, 2015

GMO AnswersBelow is an excerpt from an interview with Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), posted by CropLife International:

Only 25 percent of agricultural scientists in Africa are women. Increasing this number is critical to Africa’s food security, says Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), a career development program for top female scientists.  So far, more than 400 women in 11 countries across sub-Saharan Africa have earned AWARD Fellowships and a significant number of them are focused in the fields of plant biotechnology or crop protection. We caught up with Kamau-Rutenberg to ask about her work.

What is AWARD’s mission and why is it important to Africa?

We care that African smallholder farmers have access to absolutely the best scientific research available and in order for that to happen, we need to enhance the infrastructure for agricultural research on the continent. Gender balance within the agricultural research community is an important part of building up that infrastructure.

When we talk about African women in agriculture, we tend to have a very simplistic understanding of who they are. We tend to think about an impoverished woman as a smallholder farmer with a hungry baby strapped her back, but that’s just one part of the whole story. It’s really important that we start to see African women in all the different spaces that exist in agriculture, which includes research and development.

Are the dynamics for women scientists changing in Africa?

We are starting to see changes; but, of course, there is still work to do. One of the things I should count is how many women are the first to do x, y and z in their countries – the first woman to become dean of her university, the first woman to become deputy chancellor – it’s really tremendous.

AWARD has one of the biggest networks of African agricultural scientists who are committed to women’s empowerment from the lab to the farm. Every AWARD Fellow is selected because she has shown interest and evidence of commitment to doing her research toward the benefit of smallholder farmers. The fellowship is designed to help build her skills in doing that further.

Also, fellows are mentored by both men and women. About 46 percent of AWARD mentors are men, which makes our community particularly unique because we’ve got hundreds of men who care about building African research institutions where female scientists can thrive and drive innovation.

Read more about how AWARD is empowering African female plant scientists in the rest of the article.